Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Cool is Chrome?: A former walleye pro has the answer, and what may be the toughest chrome finish available

By Curtis Niedermier

If fishing lures are designed as much to catch anglers as fish, chrome lures may be the best lures in the business. On the store shelf or in a tackle box, a shiny Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap or Rapala Original Floater staring back is a powerful draw to choose that lure. It has worked on me. I’ve got Rat-L-Traps in every size in the traditional chrome with blue or black back.

On the water, chrome at least holds up to its advertisement. Fish eat chrome lures. The problem is the chrome finishes rarely hold up, especially if they spend much time banging bottom, shredding weeds or catching toothy fish. I once shredded the chrome finish off another brand of lipless crankbait within about five minutes of ripping it in sparse grass clumps. Three or four hangups were enough to lose it completely.

But chrome lovers take heed, a former FLW Walleye Tour pro is here with a whole new look on the chrome market. Keith Eshbaugh of West Alexander, Pa., is the owner of Dutch Fork Custom Lures ( He has been a walleye and muskie tournament angler for years and happens to be a walleye stick on the Three Rivers near Pittsburgh. Throughout his tournament career, he often custom painted lures for himself and fellow anglers. Now, he not only paints lures, but he has developed a method to put some of the most impressive chrome finishes on crankbaits a guy can find.

“A lot of the bait companies, they took the chrome baits off the market because they weren’t holding up,” Eshbaugh said. “The two main ways they do it are electroplating – you can electroplate plastic if it has the proper base coat, but it doesn’t hold up too well – and the other is vacuum chroming. My chroming process is a lot different. It is completely new to the fishing industry.”

Eshbaugh is still a little guy in the lure business, so he is understandably guarded of the details of his process. All we know is it is tough enough to hold up to toothy walleyes and even muskies, and there may not be a freshwater creature around that can do more damage to a lure than a muskie.

Colors and Options
Because Eshbaugh does all his work by hand, he can create virtually any chrome finish a customer desires. He can also put it on just about any material seen in today’s lure industry – metal spinner blades, balsa crankbaits, plastic stick baits.

I saw firsthand a handful of plastic and balsa lures common to both bass and walleye fishing, and I’m still amazed at how well all those colors shine. He doesn’t just paint designs over a chrome base. He can blend from one chrome color to another to make detailed baitfish patterns, bright multitones, black chrome, various shades of copper and gold, and just about anything else.

Some of his more common requests are to recreate discontinued chrome patterns and take standard color patterns, such as perch or even some bass anglers’ soft-plastic craw patterns, and transform them into chrome patterns. He can also add extra details, such as scale finishes over the chrome.

Make Fish Commit
It wouldn’t be fair to talk up all these chrome lures without touching on where and when to use them. Paul Doute of Southgate, Mich., owns Angler’s Quest, a Lake Erie and Detroit River charter service. He is also an FLW Walleye Tour co-angler and a fishing educator with Lance Valentine’s Walleye 101.

For handlining and open-water trolling, he has learned that chrome lures work best under certain conditions.

“On those days when the water is clean, or slightly stained, with high sun and no clouds, I usually try to use the chrome to get fish to commit from a farther distance,” he said. “In my opinion, with the big game fish, the last thing to get them to commit to actually taking a lure is sight. They may hear it, they may smell it, but to get that final commitment to actually strike a lure, it is by sight.”

Doute prefers his color patterns to have some transitions from dark to light colors, as well as natural forage patterns. The flashes of color changes on the sides help imitate fleeing forage fish and get walleyes close enough to think about biting.

Additionally, some chrome patterns are proven to just flat work in specific situations. Based on 20 years of records from handlining in the Detroit River, Doute knows that a No. 11 or 13 Rapala Original Floater in the clown color pattern is the most productive lure in the early season. Clown has a red head, yellow back and chrome sides. Unfortunately, that particular rendering has been discontinued, and formerly, Doute had to pay a premium on eBay for one. That problem is now solved with custom chrome from Dutch Fork Custom Lures.

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